BEST WAY TO PRETEND YOU'RE IN A CAFE IN THE BALKANS

Cafe Sarajevo

Caffe Sarajevo
Jackie Mercandetti
Now that the Balkan pot that threatened to boil over so many times in the '90s has eased to a simmer, it's time to explore that mysterious, beautiful bit of old Europe. What? Say your MasterCard is maxed out and you're two months late on your child support? Well, we can't all be Tony Bourdain, jet-setting all over the globe with a massive expense account. And really, when you get right down to it, long plane flights bite the big wang. So just venture on over to west PHX, where Cafe Sarajevo has Bosnian TV on the tube, murals of Bosnian cities Sarajevo, Gorazde and Mostar on the walls, an array of Balkan groceries, VCR tapes and CDs for sale, and, best of all, eats such as goulash, and these huge sammies made of flat, buttery bread that are referred to as cevapi, after the type of stubby, mixed meat sausages that make up the innards. What with everyone talking to each other in Serbo-Croatian, you can pretend you're in some Balkan cafe, awaiting some sloe-eyed beauty who's promised to join you. At least 'til you get the check.
No, it ain't much to look at, whether you're standing in the parking lot or in the foyer, but Silver Dragon is consistently first-rate, as long as you order from the Chinese menu instead of the more Americanized bill of fare. The Chinese version is for the slightly more adventurous, with hot pots of gingered beef, white fungus soup, beef chow fun, funky salted seafood dishes, and so forth. Service is friendly, doting if you're a regular. Portions are generous, and the price tag is very reasonable. Sure, ordering from the Chinese side of the menu will mean the occasional bizarro entree for us Occidentals, but that's part of the fun of eating at this family-run enterprise. Plus, how many times can you eat sweet-and-sour pork at the buffet down the street before you turn the color of the sauce?
Desert Jade
Sarah Whitmire
Every Phoenix 'hood should be so blessed as the one near 32nd Street and Indian School Road, where Desert Jade takes up residence in what might have been an old steak house or pancake shack long ago. Inside the cottage-like structure, there are faded velvet booths and stuffed quail mounted over a fireplace that's been dormant for who knows how long. Despite the worn interior, the Chinese family that runs this enterprise offers snappy service right up until 10 most nights of the week, as well as the sort of Chinese comfort food that we need a weekly fix of to stay satisfied: sizzling rice soup, plump pork pot stickers, egg foo yung, mu shu pork, lemon chicken, tangerine beef, lettuce wraps, and pot after pot of hot tea. Nothing gourmet here, just standards well done. But that's enough when you don't want to drive to the far end of town or pay a lot for good eats in a casual atmosphere.

BEST NEW SCHOOL CHINESE RESTAURANT

Fate

Johnny Chu continues to stir-fry the fun at Fate, where the young chef's unique sauces complement made-to-order dishes cooked with your choice of beef, chicken, shrimp or tofu. From the spinach bun starters to the sweet rice crackers that come at the end of every meal, we love Chu's twist of Fate.
Shimogamo Japanese Restaurant
Lauren Saria
Shimogamo is the kind of strip-mall haunt that you wouldn't likely stumble upon unless you happened to be visiting its more conspicuous neighbor, C-Fu Gourmet, or perhaps driving around looking for Lee Lee Oriental Market, located catty-cornered to the small establishment. No matter. If you love Japanese food, this jewel box of a restaurant is a more than worthy destination unto itself. Inside, the decor is modern and minimal, and the sushi bar is filled with Japanese regulars (always a good sign). The food, too, is straight outta Nippon: crisp gyoza, buttery Saikyo black cod, refreshing daikon radish salad. There are a few unusual offerings, from the simple (ochazuke rice porridge) to the complex (pork tenderloin katsu stuffed with shiso leaves, dried tomato and wasabi). For that matter, the sushi is uncommon as well so fresh you'll probably dream about it until your next visit to Shimogamo.
Eddie V's Edgewater Grill
Referring to DC Ranch as the edge of the water is delusion on a scale as large as, oh, filling up a ditch with H2O and calling it the "Scottsdale Waterfront." But to be fair, Eddie V's Edgewater Grille had that handle in Austin, Texas situated, as the city is, on the Colorado River before it opened up the DC Ranch location. And the Valley's desert denial certainly preceded Eddie V's. (Uh, Tempe Town Lake, anyone?) Anyway, at Eddie V's, at least when it comes to the menu, and the flavor and freshness of the fin-bearers, you might actually be able to imagine that you're in some water-bordering burg, whether that water is fresh or salt. From the colossal shrimp cocktail and Maryland-style lump crab cake to the Parmesan-crusted lemon sole and the lightly smoked salmon fillet, most every dish is memorable, inspiring revisits galore. And DC Ranch is closer than San Diego, after all, when it comes to reaching a "waterfront."
Greekfest Restaurant
Diana Martinez
You don't have to be Greek to yearn for the Old Country when you step through the doors of this relaxed, elegant eatery, where white stucco walls, wood-beam ceilings, and displays of folk art and pottery create a welcoming, taverna-like atmosphere. Effortless authenticity extends to the menu, too, with Hellenic favorites like taramosalata, a creamy caviar dip tinged with lemon; cheesy, gooey moussaka, with ground lamb and eggplant; and sizzling souvlaki, made with marinated lamb, chicken, or swordfish. You'll surely stuff yourself on all of this Mediterranean comfort food, but desserts are definitely worth making room for; the sticky baklava is divine, but we also love the sweet, custardy galaktoboureko. And as for the wine list, well, one of these hard-to-find bottles from Greece just might temporarily ease your insatiable wanderlust. Yasou!
Baby Kay's Cajun Kitchen
Feeling ravenous? Good. You'll need to bring a big appetite to Baby Kay's, or at least make room in your fridge for leftovers. This sunny, friendly joint with pale yellow walls, homey wooden furniture, and upbeat music on the stereo promises mighty fine eatin' for days when you'll happily ditch your diet to dig into something rich and filling. Start things off with some hot wings or crabcakes, or, if you'd rather guilt yourself into ordering something lighter, rest assured even the grilled chicken salad is on the spicy side, thanks to a dose of apricot-habanero Tabasco dressing. Then gear up for a big helping of creamy crawfish touffe, a plate of spicy jambalaya jammed with chunks of chicken and andouille sausage, or a steaming bowl of chicken gumbo. (If it's too much trouble to choose, get all three with the Cajun Combination dinner.) It might take some endurance to clear your plate, but feel free to take your sweet ol' time like they do in Louisiana. Goodness gracious, a food coma never felt so good!
Cozy, candlelit Citrus Caf makes a primo date destination, or just an intimate spot to sip wine with foodie friends, nibble on something dreamy (like warm almond-crusted grilled Brie with apples), and marvel over the menu, an ever-changing list of bistro classics handwritten on a display board that waiters bring to each table. Sizzling filet au poivre, buttery lapin la moutarde, marinated lamb chops, and herb-crusted salmon are just a few of the delightful dishes that might make an appearance on any given night. As you might guess, dinner here is a splurge, but if you're expecting a smidgen of haughty Euro attitude with your French food, you'll be surprised at how attentive, discreet and (quel shock!) downright welcoming the service is at this elegant eatery. Just thinking about Citrus Caf makes us feel all warm and fuzzy.
Bavarian Point Restaurant
If you're a meat-and-potatoes kind of person, Bavarian Point serves the ultimate comfort food, our favorite for German fare. The Wurst Pfanne is made for indecisive sausage lovers, with sizzling hot Polish sausage, bratwurst, and knackwurst all on one plate, and the rindsroulade offers an unusual take on steak, with vegetables rolled up in thinly pounded sirloin. Other specialties include Hühnerbrust Calbados (chicken with cream sauce and spaetzle), veal Wiener schnitzel, and several seafood options, but Bavarian Point does pork best of all. Loosen your belt and settle into a cozy booth before you dig in to the schweinebraten, a classic presentation of tender roast pork with moist dumplings and savory, not-too-salty sauerkraut. It's rich, it's filling, and it's the ultimate complement for an ice-cold glass of beer (there are a dozen on tap here). If that doesn't take care of your raging protein craving, nothing will.

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